Did you miss the other posts about the Mr. Darcy’s Impertinent Daughters universe? Check them out here:
September turned out to be a hectic month, but here’s to getting back to regular posting in October!
In their last stop before Manchester, Angelica could barely hold in her enthusiasm. George and Malachi had slept the entire way. Mr. Ward had provided enjoyable companionship and conversation. Still, he was no comparison to the prospect of entering a bustling city. She had nearly insisted that she did not need to leave the carriage when they stopped to change horses, but it occurred to her that she would rather not have to use the privy once they were in the town. She rushed through the process, apparently surprising Mr. Ward, and they returned to the coach before they were through changing out the horses. Then, the driver had questions to ask Mr. Ward. He had never been to the hotel in Manchester and needed directions.
Angelica stifled her annoyance and paced outside of the conveyance. Her focus on the need to be on their way evaporated when she heard the cries of a small child. It sounded terrified and lost. She attempted to signal to Mr. Ward, but he was engrossed in conversation. She glanced around, hoping to find the child’s parents or someone looking for it, but did not. Indeed, the sounds were growing fainter, as though they were walking deeper into the woods. Hitching up her skirt, she went in the direction she had heard the voice.
“Hello?” Angelica called. “Are you lost?” She thought she heard a sound, so she stilled. A rabbit jumped by. “I thought you were the child,” she scolded the animal.
Pressing on, Angelica continued to call for the lost child and looked to her left and right.
“I heard you crying. I want to help.”
Her heart ached for the child that was now wandering around the woods outside this village barely large enough for a coaching inn. She thought, too, of the parents searching for their little one. She recalled a time a few years ago when she had lost Tommy in the woods outside of Pemberley. It was the most terrifying moment of her life. They had been walking together on a path, and she stopped to pick some flowers. It took only a moment for him to be distracted by a rabbit and follow after it. When she finally found him, he had scratches from bushes and brambles. He said he had tried to retrace his steps but was discovered in an entirely different direction. That was one of the reasons Mr. Darcy built the seats on Raphaela’s tree. You could see much of the woods from it.
Hearing a faint sob, Angelica’s mind jerked to the present. She veered off the path toward the sound. “Where are you? Do not be afraid. I wish to be a friend.”
Tears were pricking Angelica’s eyes when, at last, she heard the sound of steps behind her. Whirling, she was surprised to see the angry visage of Mr. Ward.
“What in tarnation are you doing, woman?”
He grabbed her hand and pulled her toward him.
She planted her feet on the ground and tried to yank her hand free. “What does tarnation mean?”
“It’s American and not a word that I would usually use in front of a lady.”
“Why are you using an American word?”
“My mother was American, and I’ve spent much time there. If you wish to make Manchester by nightfall, we must go now.”
“Very well, but first, we must find a child that is lost.” She turned in the other direction. “It should be much easier with your help.”
“No, you don’t! Did you not think about how dangerous it was for you to wander off?”
Angelica spun around to face him, placing her hands on her hips. “I wouldn’t have needed to wander off if it weren’t for you! You were talking poor Mr. Jones’ ear off! Besides, there is someone who needs our help.”
She stepped toward the direction she last heard the child. Mr. Ward grabbed her by the shoulders, quickly whirling her to face him. Before she could say a word, he had scooped her up and thrown her over his shoulder. He held her legs against his chest.
“What on earth are you doing? Put me down!”
“Or what?” He asked.
“You are no gentlemen!”
“I believe you already thought that of me and then learned you were mistaken about me, and you were the one at fault.” He shifted her weight on his shoulder as they reached the path.
“I am most certainly not the one at fault right now!”
“Yes, you are. You are the one that wandered off. You were making an unwise decision, and I am saving you from it.”
“The child? It might have been an animal.”
“You do not know that—”
“I saw a man and woman leaving as I entered. The man held a small child, and they looked greatly relieved.”
“You—you—” Angelica had no words left. The man infuriated her. The way he carried her was humiliating, and on top of it all, he was correct. She had been foolish to run off after a mere noise. “Put me down!”
She beat on his back with her fists. She did not strike hard enough to hurt him; she doubted she could if she wanted. However, she hoped it would prove her point.
Mr. Ward ceased walking. “You need a good spanking, Miss Darcy! Your father spoiled you.” Then, he gave her a wallop with his free hand.
It did not hurt in the least; it was little more than a tap, but Angelica had no choice but to retaliate. Immediately, Mr. Ward placed her on the ground in front of him. His brown eyes burned with intensity, and he breathed heavily. She imagined that her own gaze looked similar, and her chest rose and fell just as rapidly as his.
Uncomfortable with the silence, Angelica broke it. “My father—”
Mr. Ward grasped her shoulders and pulled her so close to him their faces almost touched. She sucked in a breath while excitement thrummed in her body. Like an arrow ripping through its target, Angelica suddenly realised that she wanted him to kiss her.
Abruptly, he let her go. He stalked off, and she allowed distance to lapse between them while she willed her flaming cheeks to cool and her heart to slow. What a hoyden she had been! How would she bear the scrutiny of London when this is how she behaved?
“What in tarnation was I thinking?” she whispered to herself before trudging forward.
Angelica could not help but blush when Mr. Ward was waiting outside the carriage and handed her up. She dared not meet his eyes on the rest of the journey. Manchester seemed to hold less interest to her than deciphering the scene in the woods.
She had understood her attraction to Mr. Ward before, but now he posed a risk. Previously, she had not thought it went beyond noting he was handsome and pleasant company. Angelica never cared if he reciprocated her thoughts as she had no intention of it meaning anything. However, he had nearly kissed her. Despite the tingling of her lips, she repressed the notion. She did not mean to marry for several years. She would have her adventurous summer and then several seasons in London. What sort of ninny was she to fancy herself in love with the first young gentleman she met that showed her any kind of attention?
Love? No, no, no. It was merely infatuation. Any lady’s head would be turned with the thought of a man enamoured with her. However, Mr. Ward never seemed lover-like. He took no pains to spend time with her, and he did not compliment her. Indeed, he hardly seemed to tolerate her much of the time. He had been downright angry with her in the woods. Yes, it was just misdirected emotion. All she had to do was comport herself correctly, and she would not stir up any more of his…passions. Angelica gulped, recalling the fire that burned in his eyes as he gripped her shoulders and pulled her close.
A rut in the road roused the brother next to her. “Are we there yet?” Malachi grunted.
“Nearly,” George said from across her.
Angelica’s eyes flew to her eldest brother. He did not sound as though he had just awoken. Nor did he look it. He raised his brows at her and then slid his eyes to his friend in silent question. Angelica snapped her head back to look out her window. Her earlier desire to arrive in town had multiplied tenfold. The carriage was suddenly far too stifling. She needed to be away from the questioning glances of her brothers and desired distance from all the males present.
The gentlemen chatted about the plans for the morning. George and Malachi would purchase their tickets while Mr. Ward visited his bank.
“You do not mind taking Angie, do you, John?” Malachi asked. “She would love to see more of the city.”
“If Miss Darcy wishes to accompany me to the bank, she may,” Mr. Ward said non-committedly.
Angelica noted that he did not answer Malachi’s question. He appeared to dislike the notion but was too polite to say so. “That is not necessary,” she said with a blush.
“I think you better go with John,” George said. “It is not good for you to be at the train station for so long, and I do not know how well Malachi or I will be able to tend to you.”
“I am not so fragile,” she insisted.
“Did you not promise Mama and Papa that you would obey us?” Malachi asked.
Angelica scowled in response and folded her arms on her chest. “Very well.”
Malachi threw his head back and laughed. “I pray for her future husband, John. He will have his hands full!”
George chuckled as well. Angelica’s frown deepened until Mr. Ward interrupted the laughter.
“We are just outside the town.” He pointed out the window, and they saw high, smoking chimneys and many large buildings. “Factories are being built outside the town limits now.”
The sun was beginning to set, and the haze from the smoke cast a strange glow in the sky. A nervous feeling settled in Angelica’s stomach. Her glee and excitement were replaced with trepidation as she imagined the conditions of the poor workers.
By the time they reached the hotel, Angelica’s head ached, and she could not stomach her food. George inquired after her health, but she replied that she was merely tired from the journey. Her maid assisted her in changing and then applied a cool cloth to her head. Nevertheless, Angelica tossed and turned for much of the night.
In the morning, she was awakened by her maid, who had let her oversleep. George and Malachi had already left for the station, and Mr. Ward awaited her downstairs. She rushed through her breakfast and toilette. She could not meet Mr. Ward’s eyes as she apologised for her tardiness. When he offered his arm to escort her, she barely touched it.
For his part, he appeared entirely unaffected by their encounter in the woods. He was, perhaps, a little quieter than he had been the previous day. However, as the coach rolled through the town, he pointed out various sights. Slowly, it put Angelica at ease.
The Ward Bank of Manchester was an impressive establishment. A stone building five stories high and in the heart of the city testified its importance. She complimented Mr. Ward on it.
“Thank you, but I have had nothing to do with it,” he said in reply.
“Still, it must be pleasing to be part of such a profound legacy.”
“Perhaps,” he said in his vague way. “There is an antechamber outside of my office that you may wait in or, if you would rather, you may stay in the main lobby.”
Angelica smiled at the latter. “I think I would prefer to wait in the lobby.”
“I thought you would enjoy watching the people and the proceedings.”
Not for the first time, Angelica wondered how he understood her so well but pushed the thought aside. Upon entering the main hall, Angelica gasped. The ceiling was vaulted with large pillars supporting it. Everything about the environment was designed to impress. Ward escorted her to a settee near a window and excused himself.
For nearly twenty minutes, Angelica entertained herself by watching the comings and goings of people. She wished she could see inside the offices and know more about the process, but for now, it was enough to invent stories about the clients. Soon, however, her interest waned, and she stared out the window.
A flash of colour caught her eye. A small child in ragged clothing limped down the street, tears streaking down her face. Angelica’s heart constricted. Where were the poor thing’s parents? She tapped on the glass, garnering the child’s notice, then motioned for it to wait.
Angelica stepped outside the bank. “Good morning. My name is Miss Angelica Darcy. What is yours?”
“Sally,” she said with a sniff.
“Why are you crying, Sally?”
“My tummy hurts. I’m so hungry, Miss.”
Angelica chewed her bottom lip. “Well, we cannot have that, can we. Is your Mama home? I would love to meet her.”
“I have no Mama; or a Papa either.”
“Who looks after you, then?”
“I have no one but myself.”
Angelica’s heart shattered then. “Do you have a place to sleep? How do you pay for your food?”
“Sometimes people give me work, sometimes they give me money.”
“How old are you, Sally?”
She screwed up her face. “I don’t know.”
Angelica looked at the girl. She looked to be about Christiane’s age, ten years old and alone in the world. A thought pricked Angelica’s mind. “What kind of work do you do?”
“All sorts of things. Sometimes people ask me to do errands for them. Do you need anything, Miss?” Sally looked at Angelica with big, brown eyes.
“How would you like to work in the country in a big house? You could train as a maid.”
“What is a maid?”
“Someone who cleans — or perhaps you would prefer to cook?”
Sally looked at Angelica warily. “Would someone be bossin’ me around?”
“You would have someone giving you directions, but also teaching you and preparing you for future positions. Pemberley’s staff is all very kind. You would be paid, too, and have a warm bed and food.”
“Really?” Sally’s eyes brightened.
“Yes. Do you have things to take with you? I can arrange with my brothers to have you sent to Pemberley this afternoon.”
Suddenly, Sally became nervous. “Will you come with me?”
“I cannot go with you but will hire someone to travel with you. I will be away for several weeks, but when I return, I will meet with you, and you can tell me everything you have learned.”
“Promise? You promise you will come back?”
Angelica nodded. “And, I have sisters your age who would enjoy playing with you.”
“My things are down this way.” Sally jerked her head toward an alley.
“Perfect. Just allow me one minute, and I will be right back.”
Angelica returned inside the bank and found an employee to speak with. She asked the clerk to inform Mr. Ward that she had gone around the corner but would be back momentarily.
Exiting the building, she followed Sally down a narrow alley and tiptoed around stinking puddles. This was not a part of the town she had ever imagined seeing, but it hardened her intention to help Sally all the more. Finally, they reached a small lean-to. It was crowded with frail-looking people and children with sunken eyes. How Angelica wished she could help them all! How could the people of Manchester allow their neighbours and innocent children to live like this? Sally crept around the people.
Unable to watch further, Angelica turned her head toward the sky. Although still morning, the thick smoke in the air made it appear like dusk. She heard a shuffling behind her and thought it was Sally until the hair on the back of her neck stood up.
“What have we here?” A gruff voice said just before rough hands grabbed her.